It’s been quite a week in the Church of England – and it wasn’t even General Synod… I’d had a call from the Radio 4 Sunday programme to speak about the delay in bringing in stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples (since mid-December, it has been possible to use the prayers for this in existing services, but not on their own). I was happy to explain that, as confirmed by the Lead Bishops for Living in Love and Faith, the current situation is that these can’t happen until the Pastoral Guidance and Pastoral Reassurance documents are published. Well, not exactly happy: I was one of those who voted in November for the House of Bishops to consider going ahead with this, and when Synod passed this amendment it was clear that we did so because we wanted the stand-alone services now, on a trial basis. But when the House of Bishops ‘considered’ it following the Synod vote, they decided not to go ahead yet.

This ‘brief’ then expanded when the week began with an unexpected development: one of the two new Lead Bishops for LLF, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley who – only a week before – had met representatives of the various conservative and inclusive groups, resigned from that role. Her resignation was about the appointment of a new ‘Interim Theological Advisor to the House of Bishops’. But it wasn’t about the person, or his conservative theology, or that he’d published online a now-deleted piece which doesn’t read well when the message from the LLF bishops has so far been to reset the tone and calm down. And someone should have warned him that deleted articles can be easily found, because online nothing really disappears. 

So, yesterday morning, I was on the Sunday programme with Ian Paul, who chose to ignore the facts by suggesting that it was all about the views of the person appointed. The pressures of a radio interview meant I could not come back when Dr Paul said of the newly-appointed Theological Advisor ‘Helen-Ann Hartley did make him an issue’.

No, she didn’t. Dr Paul doesn’t seem to have read Bishop Helen-Ann’s resignation letter, where she said she had decided not to continue due to ‘serious concerns relating to the recent process of appointing an Interim Theological Advisor to the House of Bishops’ (my italics: all documents referred to in this blog post are collected here on the Thinking Anglicans site). It is clear that one element of this lack of process was that neither Lead Bishop was involved in the appointment, something that was reinforced by her fellow-Lead Bishop, Bishop Martyn Snow, when he too made a statement about the terms for him remaining in this role: ‘the Co-Lead Bishops for LLF must be involved in the appointment of future Theological Advisers (we were not involved in the recent process)’ (again, my italics). Both Lead Bishops are concerned about ‘process’.

So what was this ‘process’? On the Sunday programme, Ian Paul assured us it was all entirely standard. Before answering that question, let’s step back and look at the job description which is, after all, where any appointment process starts. 

I don’t know how widely the job was advertised, but Simon Sarmiento on Thinking Anglicans traced it to something called the ‘Priest-Theologian Network’. It included this: 

The post-holder will need to be able to contribute significantly to theological and pastoral work on LLF and will need to command the respect of the very wide diversity of stakeholders with an interest in this matter. The post-holder will form part of the core team working on LLF, working closely with +Helen-Ann Hartley and +Martyn Snow as the episcopal leads on LLF.

So it’s a job which is explicitly tied closely to LLF. The new Interim Theological Advisor is clearly intended to be part of the ‘core team’, and as ‘a small working group to develop ideas’ has been set up under the LLF umbrella to look at ‘Pastoral Provision’ he will surely be part of that. ‘Pastoral Provision’? I think this is what used to be called Pastoral Reassurance – how to deal with situations which may arise when using the Prayers of Love and Faith – as well as considering whether structural changes are needed, like having bishops who have said they will never use the Prayers and who will therefore be considered acceptable for ordaining priests who also won’t. The membership of that ‘small working group’ has not yet been announced, although its existence was made public in December; I am told by the LLF team that there are still names to be added, and one of them will clearly be Helen-Ann’s successor, and another – now – the extra Theological Advisor asked for by Bishop Martyn.

So, back to the appointment procedure. Read it all at Shared Conversations